Most of us have been socialized to let others decide what we do with our days. We start in kindergarten (or even earlier). They tell us when to have meals, when to listen to a story, and when to take a nap. As we grow up, the limits on our time are even stricter. There is the hour to do math, the hour to write an English paper, the hour to do art. If you go to College, you get a bit of a break. Most students take about 15 credits, which means they are in scheduled classes roughly 15 hours per week. They have some flexibility with the rest of their time, but there is homework to do and books to read. Even social events that College kids feel like they must attend to have a real College experience take away from their ability to make their own choices about their time.
Most people’s jobs have a pretty strict schedule. Even if the job is interesting, it is pretty regimented. I am in meetings an average of about 6 hours a day. Answering email takes probably another three hours. I like my job, but it does dictate how I spend most of my waking hours. Self-employed people often have less of an external schedule imposed on them but for most people, being self-employed still involves working hard every day to make and keep their business successful.
Most people don’t experience the opportunity to truly decide what to do with their time until they retire. It is tough to learn how to make decisions about your time at 65 when the last time you got to make that decision was when you were 5!
I have no desire to retire, but it seems like a good thought experiment to think of what I would do if I did. For me, the most important components of a fulfilling life are having a circle of friends, having challenges, and doing something impactful. I would like to become good at some physical skill. I like ballroom dancing, and I can probably be good at it if I put in the time. It is also a great way to make friends. I would also get a small camper and travel with my lovely wife, child, and all the animals. Traveling and biking around the country would be really fun.
For a challenge, I would start a business based on teaching all kinds of kids useful math skills. I hate how math is taught in US schools. On average, I can do about 80% of my kid’s math HW correctly on the first try (she is now in 6th grade, and my percentage has actually been improving), and I have a Ph.D. in math. If I have to think hard about a problem, my 6th graders shouldn’t be expected to know how to do it. At the same time, many of her classmates still don’t know the multiplication table. There is a lot of help available to kids. For example, Sylvan has a pretty good program, but it is $50 per hour in my area (and I live in a low-cost area). That is not something most families can afford. I want to contribute towards giving all kids the same opportunities for a good education.
It would be kind of terrifying to wake up and not to have the schedule my employer has predetermined for me. And it is kind of sad that I don’t have the skills to do my own thing. I’d like to think I would figure out how to live my life without being told which meeting to go to next, and I won’t spend my days eating potato chips in front of the TV, but it would be a challenge.
What would you do if your schedule wasn’t determined by your employer or by the need to make money? Are you looking forward to such a time?